As we’ve talked about before, Kipling’s poem IF contains so much parenting wisdom (as well as, in its own backstory, a painful parenting story). But one of the most interesting things you notice about the poem is that it’s sort of full of contradictions. Dream, Kipling tells his son Jack, but don’t be mastered by dreams. Think, but don’t make thoughts your aim. Look good, but not too good. Speak the truth, be OK with people lying about you. Be a man of the people…and comfortable with kings.
What is Kipling doing? He’s saying to do one thing…and then another. To be one way…but also another way. Isn’t that life though? Some situations call for this and some for that. Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself…sometimes you have to ignore the provocation. Sometimes you have to take the risk…sometimes you have to have a safer backup plan. Sometimes you need to zoom out…sometimes you need to zoom in.
Life is about this tension, this balance. The Stoics called this temperance or moderation. We could also call it being a well rounded person. We could call it being able to handle the paradoxical nature of life.
The traits and skills we want our kids to have are in tension with each other. We want them to be ambitious, but also humble. We want them to be smart but not stuck in their own heads. We want them to be decent, but not naive. We want them to be winners, and able to fail.
It’s complicated and contradictory…but then again so is life.